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Courtney Rust/Stocksy United

It’s something you might be told in passing as you and your little one leave the hospital: “Oh, just give them a sponge bath until the umbilical cord falls out” or “Because of their small size, just do a sponge bath for a few weeks.”

You have so much on your mind that you don’t give this much thought. But when the time comes, you wonder — how exactly does a sponge bath work?

Look no further. We’ve got you covered.

Sponge baths are a great option when your baby isn’t ready for a regular (or even baby) tub filled with warm water and shiny bubbles.

During a sponge bath, just like during a regular bath, you give your baby an all-over wash and rinse. But there are two differences:

  • Your baby lies on a towel instead of in a tub.
  • You wash and rinse one section of their body at a time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says to give your baby a sponge bath until the umbilical cord stump falls away.

The average amount of time it takes for this to happen is 2 weeks, but sometimes the cord may fall off a little earlier or later. Anywhere between 5 to 15 days after your baby is born is typical, according to a 2016 study.

Your baby might also need a sponge bath if they’ve had any kind of surgical procedure and have stitches or bandages on their skin.

Make a sponge bath easy and fun by having all your supplies on hand before you start. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  • a large bowl of warm water
  • two towels
  • two washcloths
  • gentle baby soap
  • cotton balls
  • clean diapers
  • baby wipes
  • clean clothes

Now the fun starts. If you’re in the bathroom, you can warm up the air by letting the warm water run for a few minutes.

Then, follow this step-by-step guide for a clean and happy baby:

  1. Undress your baby. Lay them on their back on the towel. Use the second towel to cover them.
  2. Dip two cotton balls in water and wipe each of your baby’s eyes from their nose toward their outer eye, using a different cotton ball for each eye.
  3. Dip one washcloth into the water and wipe your baby’s face and ears. Wipe the crease behind their ears well— milk from spit-ups may have collected here and dried.
  4. Squeeze a few drops of soap onto the washcloth and gently wipe your baby’s scalp and neck. Pat the areas dry.
  5. Move on to the rest of baby’s body. Uncover one limb at a time and rub with the soapy washcloth. Pay attention to the little creases under their arms, the diaper area, and the spaces between their fingers and toes.
  6. Now wet the second washcloth and wipe off the soap by uncovering one limb at a time.
  7. Best practice is to keep the umbilical cord area clean and dry. If you see any dried blood or secretions, use the washcloth to wipe them away gently and then pat it dry.
  8. Use the towel that your baby is laying on to pat them dry.
  9. If you notice that your baby’s skin is a little flaky, you can rub in some mild baby moisturizer.
  10. Diaper your baby and dress them in clean clothes.

Keeping the tools of the trade clean is easy. After each use, hang up the towels and washcloths in a place where they can air-dry. That’s because damp towels are a good breeding ground for unwanted microorganisms.

After using them three to five times, you’ll need to launder the towels and washcloths.

Sponge baths for newborns don’t need to happen every day. In fact, one to two times per week is sufficient.

Once your baby is ready for the tub you’ve chosen, you may want to start bathing them more often just because you enjoy watching them kick at the water.

Once your baby’s umbilical cord falls off, they’re ready for a baby tub as long as there are no other concerns.

Many parents opt for a small plastic tub that sits in the main tub. But you may find it easier on your back to use the kitchen sink or a baby tub that fits into the sink.

Whether you lay your baby on a sofa, bed, or kitchen counter, they’ll be in a raised place. Keep one hand on your baby even when you’re reaching for your supplies to make sure that they don’t surprise you by slipping off.

Now that you’ve given baby a sponge bath, you deserve to enjoy that delicious smell of a clean baby. Breathe it in deeply!

And when you’re done cuddling and your baby is safe with a partner or sleeping in your sight, treat yourself to a little R&R as well.